Talk about a zeitgeist car. Amidst all the chatter about double-dips and contagion, Dacia – the car equivalent of Tesco Value – will start to import a range of bargain-basement cars to Great Britain. The Romanian-built Duster will be the first to arrive at the start of 2013, and the mini-SUV will cost from just £8,995 – the UK’s cheapest SUV.
Roll that figure around in your head for a bit. Under nine grand, for a decent-sized car that will seat five adults in comfort, will carry all their luggage with consummate ease and is capable enough to drive the length and breadth of the country. Anyone imagining that the Duster is the 21st-century equivalent of a Trabant or Yugo needs to think again.
How have they done it? Well, it’s simple really – Dacia (pronounced da-cha) has thrown out every single piece of kit that isn’t absolutely necessary to get you from A to B. There are four tyres, a 1.6-litre engine, windscreen wipers, some doors... and not much else. In this super-bargain-basement Access trim, you don’t get a radio, air- conditioning, alarm, Bluetooth, satnav, alloys... it’s not even four-wheel drive. If it’s a gadget, it ain’t here.
Not all the trims are as basic, though. The top-of-the-range £14,995 4x4 Laureate even has... wait for it... electric mirrors. But, to be honest, if you want cheap motoring, then buy the cheap car. Because, other than the radio, we didn’t miss any of the snazzy kit. You just make do.
as for the driving experience – adequate is how you’d sum it up. The Duster is neither fast nor fun, but it will get you everywhere you need to be, and in comfort. the 1.6-litre petrol, sourced from Dacia’s owner Renault, has 105bhp and 109lb ft, and it’s best at pottering. Overtaking is a rare event because there isn’t much torque, so you’re best just to sit back and relax – which is
made easier by the comfy ride and light steering.
But, amidst all the cheap and cheerful, a caveat is needed. and unfortunately it concerns safety. the Duster has passed Euro NCAP crash tests, but not with the kind of flying colours you’d want in a family car. It was tested last year and scored just three stars; most rivals get five. NCAP blamed it on the driver’s door and boot popping open upon impact. Since then, however, Dacia has announced that all cars sold in this country will have side-impact airbags as standard fitment, so, hopefully, things will be better for UK Dusters. But it will need another test to tell for sure.
Either way, it’s a sizeable blot in the copybook for the Duster. a pity, because, aside from this, there’s no reason not to recommend this car. If cheap is the new cool, and that’s looking increasingly likely given the economic outlook, then the Duster is the new class champ.
1598cc, 4cyl, FWD, 105bhp, 109lb ft, 39.8mpg, 165g/km CO2, 0–62mph in 11.5secs, 104mph, 1160kg
Cheap motoring with compromises – the lack of kit we can cope with, the 3-star crash test less so. But as a bargain SUV, nothing comes close.